Friday, May 7, 2021

Significant contribution by immigrants to US Covid-19 vaccine

Katalin Kariko is an example to prove the argument made in biotech industry, that innovation depends on the free movement of people and ideas, right. If new Covid-19 vaccines helps life in the US get back to normal, the nation has to be grateful to many immigrants like Kariko who was born in Hungary.

Grants repeatedly rejected

Katalin began working on RNA, the genetic molecule which is a very important ingredient of two new Covide-19 vaccines, when nobody believed in her proposition. When she found short of funding in her country, she moved over to Philadelphia in 1985 and joined the University faculty. She had no takers for her project. Her teaching assignment has been downgraded. She applied for dozens of grants that were refused.  “I never get the grant. All of them were rejected. Nobody was really interested in messenger RNA therapy: she said. But she kept persisting with her research. “When you do science, the whole wide world just does not exist. So, as long as you have an idea and some experiments to do, it is fun,” she said.

Kariko now is a senior vice president at BioNTech, the  company which worked with Pfizer in coming up with the first Covid vaccine to get emergency authorization in the US. BioNTech is a company based out of Germany  run by immigrants from Turkey.

Unleashing of America’s scientific genius

The Trump administration’s vaccine distribution network,’ Operation Warp Speed’ is headed by Monsef Slaoui who is a former head of GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccines wing. The “unleashing America’s scientific genius” as Trumps calls and claims has been possible mostly on account of the immigrants working in the US. It is a talent drawn from all over the world.

Magnet for the best

Take, for instance, Jeremy Levin who is CEO of Ovid Therapeutics and chairman of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization which is US industry trade group. He was born in South Africa and migrated to the US. “We (the US) are an intellectual magnet for the best of the best from around the world” said Levin who was quoted by Joel Rose in her article, “If COVID-19 Vaccines Bring An End To The Pademic, America Has Immigrants To Thank.” Those who are largely investing in the research are also immigrants. “We in America are willing to take a chance. It is the willingness to fail in the endeavor to find a medicine that could make the difference to millions of people around the world. And that characteristic is what has drawn so many from abroad who are just going to have a go at it,” explained Levin.

Half the workforce immigrants

Nearly half of the biotech workforce in the US comes from immigrants and their children who were born in the US. But the Trump administration had made it difficult for the immigrants to survive in the US by placing more restrictions on those who want to study or work. Trump’s stand has been that he wants to protect American jobs and described immigrants as threat and burden. That Trump has been indulging in blame game has been recognized by the Americans who refused to give him a second term. They voted him out in the recent presidential elections.

When Trump referred corona virus as “China Virus, ” Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, a non-profit organization based in Washington D.C., commented, “It is a very racist comment. A virus does not see any borders.”

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